Daniel Eran Dilger
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Gates, Seinfeld and the $300 Million Ad to Nowhere.

Dumb and dumber
Daniel Eran Dilger
Paul Thurrott celebrated Microsoft’s new $300 million ad campaign as a promising new attempt to stop “the bad guys” at Apple from further eroding Microsoft’s monopoly grip on the desktop PC market. The problem is that the new ads don’t accomplish what they set out to do. Here’s why.

[Artwork contributed by Alf of faq-mac.com]

Microsoft $300 Million Ads
Microsoft’s Mojave Attempts to Wet Vista’s Desert
Microsoft’s Mojave Experiment Exposes Serious Vista Problems
Paul Thurrott calls Apple “the Bad Guys” of Microsoft’s $300 Million Ads
Gates, Seinfeld and the $300 Million Ad to Nowhere
Microsoft’s $300 million ad campaign tumbles with new PC ads
Microsoft’s “Windows vs Walls” Ad Tries to Think Different, Fails
Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” Millions Actually Promoting the Mac
You Paid $300 Million for What?

Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte called the campaign “telling the story of Windows,” a product that, as he wrote, “enables a billion people around the globe to do more with their lives daily.”

Wait, Windows enables users to do more than what, not having an operating system? More than if they had not paid for a commercial operating system? More than if they were using another operating system?

This is the kind of meaningless corporate speech that Microsoft has been gushing for years. In reality, the “story of Windows” is really not something Microsoft can afford to tell.

Paul Thurrott calls Apple “the Bad Guys” of Microsoft’s $300 Million Ads

The Story of Windows (a Tragedy).

Windows 1.0 to 3.0 began as an effort to rip off Apple by using access Microsoft had gained as an early Mac developer to leverage Apple’s own technology against it.

It continued as an effort to stab IBM and Microsoft’s own DOS developers in the back by floating Windows first as a part of OS/2, and then suddenly as a competitor, consolidating the Windows application business into Microsoft’s OS monopoly.

Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly
Office Wars 4 – Microsoft’s Assault on Lotus and IBM
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1980s

Under Bill Gates’ 1991 Cairo vision, Windows became a vaporware promise throughout the 90s that only ever intended to match the late 80s technology of IBM, Novell, and NeXT.

1990-1995: Microsoft’s Yellow Road to Cairo

The Windows story turned 4.0 with “NT” after Microsoft hired the developers behind Digital’s VMS in the late 80s, but that new kernel code wasn’t made available to consumers until 5.0: Windows 2000 and Windows XP in 2001; regular users suffered through years of new paid DOS-based Windows upgrades in the late 90s that got progressively worse until they exploded into a crisis of malware, adware and viral security problems, which went largely unaddressed until XP SP2 in late 2004.

history of the 90s

SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1990s

The latest chapter of the story of Windows is 6.0: Windows Vista. After six years of failures, pared down features, and efforts to clone technologies in Mac OS X, from a modern compositing graphics engine just like Apple’s eight year old Quartz to interface features that aped the years-old Exposé and Spotlight, Vista finally shipped to users.

PC users have purposely ignored upgrading and instead have worked hard to remove Vista from their PCs and downgrade to XP in its place over the nearly two years since its launch.

Vista 1995

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WYE, WYG: Windows Vista vs Mac OS X Leopard
Windows Vista, 7, and Singularity: The New Copland, Gershwin, Taligent

Of course, none of this is the story Microsoft will be telling, because the real story of Windows is all about incompetence, greed, and holding back technical progress to jack up consumer prices and stop competition.

Instead, Microsoft hopes to “engage consumers and spark a new conversation about Windows,” more meaningless corporate speak that demonstrates an intent to change things without changing anything. Microsoft isn’t even pretending to promise change in the future, it’s just seeking to distort reality with a heavy dose of marketing.

Seinfeld with Special Billionaire Guest who Paid $300 Million.

That fake “story” involves Microsoft’s new ads with Jerry Seinfeld and Gates, which Veghte said starts as “an icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context.”

That icebreaker came in the form of what appeared to be short Seinfeld episode with Gates making a cameo appearance. In typical Seinfeld style, it comically talks about nothing: shoes and churros and taking showers fully dressed.

Seinfeld asks Gates to “adjust his shorts” to signal whether Microsoft will ever deliver delicious edible computers. Softball question! Why not ask if Microsoft will deliver an operating system people will want to buy rather than go out of their way to avoid despite the few competitive options available, or if Microsoft will ever introduce original pioneering technologies that are usable rather than just trying to reactively copy real innovators? That would really adjust Gates’ shorts.

The ad also presents a fantasy of how ironic it would be if one of the world’s wealthiest men spent his time buying low priced shoes at a cheap mall store with a discount card sporting his 1977 mug shot from his “wilder” days of running stop signs and driving without a license. What a crazy maverick!

Brutally Ineffective Advertisement.

Never mind the ad was simply fiction; Gates doesn’t shop for shoe deals at discount stores. The real problem is larger. Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the agency behind the “Creepy King” ads for Burger King, is good at getting people to talk, but not so good at getting people to relate positively to a subject.

However, Microsoft doesn’t need brand recognition. It’s a freaking global monopoly. Nor does it need to incite discussion. It already has an army of bloggers, astroturfers, and apologists who spend their lives thinking up excuses for why the company’s criminal conduct and shoddy products are not really problems, while celebrating its bland mediocrity as if it were something truly impressive.

And while the ad succeeded in portraying Gates as being less wooden, whiney, and self-enraptured about his supposed engineering genius than he usually comes across as in person, Microsoft shouldn’t need to spend $300 million to make over Gates’ image when the guy isn’t even running the company anymore.

Ten myths of Leopard

iPod vs Zune: Microsoft’s Slippery Astroturf
Ten Myths of Leopard: 10 Leopard is a Vista Knockoff!

Removing the Mark of the Beast.

Perhaps the ads should have tried to remake CEO Steve Ballmer as being less violent and monstrous, and more honest, likable, and human. That might cost more than $300 million, but it’s not like Microsoft couldn’t afford it.

And really, if the company sees $300 million of value in polishing the tarnished image of its executives, why not just send them on Saturday Night Live and Oprah? Can you imagine any show rejecting Gates or even Ballmer, or demanding payment to host them as a proxy product placement?

Of course, it’s hard to carefully script real people into a false persona without clever writing or editing. If Baller threw Oprah’s couch in a fit of rage, Microsoft would need to manage another $300 million campaign to cover that up, too.

Simply put, without the smoke and mirrors used by the Mojave Experiment, you just can’t rub the mark of the beast off of Windows 6, Windows Mobile 6, or Windows Server 6 because the devil is in the details. Before it tries to remove its corrupted reputation, Microsoft is going to have to release products that aren’t as evil as the current 666 lineup.

Microsoft’s Mojave Attempts to Wet Vista’s Desert

Advertise Like Apple.

Microsoft might then take a page from Apple, the company it has long tried to emulate in other respects. In 1996, Apple was where Microsoft is today: a blighted brand, shot technical credibility, plagued with a long-in-the tooth operating system, poor product quality, a fading image as in innovator, and suffering an epic crisis in stock valuation.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 04 200804191321

How Microsoft has become the Beleaguered Apple ‘96

Think Different.

In 1997, Steve Jobs had Apple began its “Think Different” campaign, which rather than portraying Apple’s executives as being less bad, celebrated individuals who had made a positive impact on society and linked in Apple’s own products as having the same intent.

“We make tools for these kinds of people,” the ads said. “While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

While the effectiveness of an ad campaign is difficult to measure, Think Different successfully presented Apple under a new banner of competence and focus that had been missing for years. It also accurately reflected the company’s intent to not just advertise change, but actually affect change.

Between 1997 and 2002, Apple went from failing to sell beige boxes running System 7 at Sears to an entirely modernized product lineup running Mac OS X and sold through a new line of company-owned retail stores. Apple didn’t just advertise a meaningless Think Different slogan, it was actually thinking differently.


Apple followed with its Switch campaign in 2002, which presented real users (and a few celebrities) complaining about their experiences on Windows PCs and how they’d moved to the Mac. The commercials directed users toward Apple’s web site, which dispelled myths about the Mac in order to make users feel more comfortable about using Apple’s products.

While critics complain that that memorable ads didn’t immediately cause a mass migration of users to the Mac platform, Apple steadily increased from selling 3 million Macs a year in 2002 to 5.3 million Macs in 2006 when it began its next ad campaign.

The Switch campaign not only kept Apple afloat, but it switched nearly as many new PC users to the Mac as Apple had started with four years prior. They were also memorable ads that invited parody and discussion about a brand many had written off as dead.

Get a Mac.

Apple’s next campaign was the “Get a Mac” series, which presented Justin Long and John Hodgman as characters presenting Macs as easy to use and PCs as being plagued with various issues.

The ads primarily focus on benefits of the Mac platform, from innovations such as MagSafe plugs to the usability of iLife and Time Machine. They also portray Macs as being unaffected by common PC problems such as spyware, viruses and Vista’s UAC annoyances.

The Get a Mac ads have had Windows Enthusiasts up in arms since they debuted, but it’s hard to argue against their effectiveness in dispelling the entrenched myths that lock users to Windows PCs.

That has left Thurrott with a sad realization: cancel his credibility by portraying platform advocacy as an epic struggle between Good vs Evil, or allow users to see through his hypocrisy of maintaing a supposedly unbiased perspective as a user of Apple’s products.

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  • Michael

    nice post daniel :) btw, in the other post, you dont look half as bad as you did in 2003… but then again you did have a hangover ;) anyway, great post it completely hits the mark. there is no way microsoft is going to get a good positive experience out of this gates and seinfeld shoe commercial… it’s almost comical how laughably bad and ineffective it is…

  • PerGrenerfors

    I think an important reason to why MS fails to market effectively to consumers is that they don’t sell to consumers. They’re a big corporation selling mostly to other big corporations. That affects your language, your mode of communication.

    I’m sure the guys at HP, Dell et al are impressed as hell by Gates just being in the same room as Seinfeld.

  • alanjcfs

    This is a very little spelling quibble (and admittedly not good since i registered just for this and couldn’t find a way to email you discreetly), but I have lately seen you use the word “pair” when you actually mean “pare,” i.e. “pared-down features.”

  • premda_nije

    At first I also couldn’t find “The Message” from the Microsoft ad, but after reading statement from Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte who called the campaign “telling the story of Windows,” a product that, as he wrote, “enables a billion people around the globe to do more with their lives daily” – I think I get it! It seems that message was, that with Windows Microsoft gave to all of us something so important as shoes are in our everyday living. But today we even don’t notice shoes as important as they realy are. Without wearing shoes (Windows) we couldn’t properly walk and do anything!?

  • fatbarstard

    I just don’t get the Microsoft ad… there is a trend for ads to not mention the product at all and focus on something completely different. For example, type ‘Cadbury Gorilla’ into the search box on You Tube and you will see a great ad embodying this concept.

    Doesn’t mention chocolate once! But what it did for brand recognition… wow! And the ad was launched at a time when the company, Cadbury, and the product, Dairy Milk Chocolate, were suffering… just like Microsoft is….

    The Microsoft ad tries to play the same game… but falls flat on its face.. two dorks in a cheap and nasty shoe store?? Where is Al Bundy when you need him?? And to insult the viewers Bill Gates shakes his butt at the end… Eeeewwwwwww…..

    So the message is… dorks out shopping doesn’t work… guy in a gorilla suit – gets them every time!

  • stefn

    The chief asset of Apple is that it’s run by a non-tech type in Jobs, who nonetheless has the respect of the techies. A super consumer as opposed to Gates, the ubernerd. The difference is night and day: one worries about how a product will function and the other how it will be built.

  • sparkplug

    “. . . . Gates’ image when the guy isn’t even running the company anymore.” My thoughts exactly.

    I thought Gates had retired from M$ and Ballmer was so upset at the retirement ceremony that he cried. Poor guy is supposedly running the company now and can’t get 2 seconds in the ad. They could have had Ballmer getting some new shoes and then doing his ‘dance.’
    Now that would have been funny!

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    I have to agree, this ad left me scratching my head. It had nothing to do with anything! That makes sense for a Seinfeld episode, but in what way does that help Microsoft improve its image? How do you “tell the story” of your product without even saying what it is?

    Also, I was thinking, would that many people even recognize Gates? Especially considering there’s no mention of Microsoft or Windows, I think a lot of people might not even realize who he is. And he doesn’t even work for the company anymore!

    My recommendation for Microsoft’s ads is the same as for Apple’s – *show* the product! Show why it’s better than the competition. Apple’s ads all focus on how bad their competition is without actually saying anything about their own product, and Microsoft’s ads don’t even make any sense. They can both do much better.

  • Phildikian

    I think this ad is really telling more than it appears. “daGUY” brought up a good point about the effectiveness of Apple’s ads vs. Microsoft’s – Apple shows the benefits they are selling – security, thoughtful design, integration etc. Microsoft doesn’t have any of that! XP is not secure – Vista’s security is difficult to measure yet. Microsoft doesn’t “do” design. Take a brief look at their icons, anti-aliasing (or lack thereof) and general UI and it’s clear that they don’t care about designing anything.

    When it comes to integration – Apple’s own software integrates very well with not only it’s other software but also with 3rd party software. Vista broke most 3rd party software, and even when it comes to it’s own version of Office – the file formats are incompatible! That’s with their own software!

    So what on earth could be Microsoft’s angle for their ads when they really don’t excel at anything? This ad says everything they possibly could.

  • Phildikian


    If you have to read a comment from the company’s upper management to “get” a T.V. ad, then they would have done better just paying Bill Veghte to stand up and tell their message. They could have saved money by not hiring JS as well as by having a considerable shorter commercial spot.

  • disposableidentity

    The Think Different campaign may have initiated a small change in perception of Apple with a wider/mainstream audience (demonstrating competence and focus, or whatever), but I believe that the real objective was to simply buy time with Apple’s small user base.

    It publicly gave the “crazy” Apple user an excuse to be different at a time when from the outside it seemed like there was no good reason.
    It was developed to hang on to their remaining loyal users, until they could start launching better hardware and a new OS.

    The Get a Mac ads, in contrast, were designed specifically to influence a mainstream market/audience.

  • http://www.jphotog.com ewelch

    Not only are Crispin Porter + Bogusky responsible for the creepy Burger King ad, but for those incredibly stupid Coke Zero ads where Coke Classic wants to sue Coke Zero for taste infringement.

    If I put on the executive ad-buying pants, I most certainly would avoid them.

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  • Jesse


    The usage is “PARED down,” not “PAIRED down.” As in, “she pared the stray branches off a shrub.” Just FYI.

  • nat

    Haha, I have a funny memory of that particular Get a Mac ad. I think it was mid-way through my sophomore year in high school and I was taking a computer certification technician course at our local career center. It was Windows heavy and I was the only Mac users in class. When I saw these ads on Apple’s website, I asked the teacher to watch a few. She was using Windows and of course, had a hard time installing QuickTime, but she really got a kick out of them. Then she called the class to attention, turned on the projector and showed the one Dan posted. When PC crashed, everyone died laughing!

    Those ads have really done more good than a lot of people realize. My mom always muted commercials, but she turns on the sound when those commercials come on and at my high school, for whatever reason, they always had Fox or CNN projected w/ sound onto a big wall in the cafeteria. Students always turned their heads, laughed, and listened to Mac and PC’s dialog. :D

  • http://Lyndell.NET/wordpress/ lyndell

    That MS ad so doesn’t sell Windows; shoes maybe. The celebrity and excitement of Jerry Seinfeld eclipses Gates. Gates answer to Seinfeld at the end of the commercial is barely audible. Apple clearly advertises it’s product with analogy, demonstration and narration.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    How about this concept:

    Bill Gates, straight to camera, no props just a blank background.

    Gates: “Hi. I’m Bill Gates. The guy behind Microsoft, Windows, PC’s, the internet… Well, maybe not that! Anyway, look, I hear you. People aren’t happy with where we’ve been going lately. They’re laughing at fancy Apple ads and like Google more than us too. You know: the people who made the whole thing possible! Well, maybe not. But okay. Fine. I get it. We’ll try harder. We’ve got a ways to go. But we’ve heard you. Give us a break!”

    Seinfeld: “Wasn’t I meant to say something about Zoons, ZoonTunes, something like that? I forget. I still get my money though right?” Looks to camera, thumbs up!! Gates sighs.

    Now that would be refreshing!

  • tehawesome

    I’m not sure if it was your intention, Dan, but the title of this article immediately had me thinking of Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads. Check it out, I think the lyrics are quite amusingly apt. Maybe this should be the soundtrack to the next MS ad?

  • http://www.ecphorizer.com Tod

    Darn! No political commentary. Daniel, you’re slipping.

    Let’s fix that.

    Isn’t Vista the Bridge to Nowhere and all the dough M$ gets from licenses are simply earmarks?

    Let’s bring change to computer platforms! Don’t let your IT dept. give you McSame, insist on a change by getting you a better-performing more secure computer – insist on a Mac!

    @Jesse: You’re technically correct but if it were a shrub, it would more likely be pruned than pared.

  • jkundert

    Wait, in that one switcher ad, that’s Jerry Seinfeld, right (the one with Hitchcock in the still image)? How deliciously ironic is that?!

  • Orac

    I saw the ad yesterday on TV. Having worked at a marketing co., I got the impression the ad was selling Jerry Seinfeld and that he uses Windows. Got nothing about it’s intended purpose, to bolster Microsoft/Windows image.

  • stevelee

    If you can double-down, why can’t you pair-down?

    And I’ve read this site enough to believe that Daniel chose the title not to remind us of the Talking Heads (at least not those Talking Heads), but of the earmarks that Palin was for before she was against. No political commentary necessary, just the reminder.

    And the Seinfeld Think Different ad was a great touch. He seems to think different from that now, or does he just like cheap shoes?

  • daveg

    Will you Mac guys please stop with the 666 and evil references. I use Mac and Windows and Ubuntu. I prefer Mac in many cases. I could list out many things that infuriate me about Windows, their marketing, etc. But one of the things that I dislike the most about the Mac does not have to do with the technology at all – it’s the attitude of some of its users.

  • SunnyGuy

    I didn’t see the ad (yet) but I suppose it wants to propagate the idea
    my brother the stockbroker has, “since all computers are ‘the same’,
    people should just buy the cheapest one”.

    So may be the ad wants to imply: “Since all shoes are basically the
    same, smart people just buy the cheapest ones.

    It may chafe more than a Berkenstock at first, but smart people will
    get used to it, be ‘compatible’, and save precious dough.”

    That said, of course I don’t agree, and think it is an false idea, but
    that’s what MicroShoe wants people to buy into.

    I choose not to digress into politics, but as the old show used to say:
    “Choose wisely, Grasshopper.”

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  • relayer

    I read the following comment at another site and had to share:

    “At least now we know why Bill Gates adjusted his shorts. To dislodge Thurrott.”

    Never laughed so hard…

  • webrs

    While Apple tries to improve their product Microsoft does what? Makes million dollar ads? I have a friend who reinstalls Windows every weekend. I think Microsoft has a market for such people.

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    It took me some time to understand what Microsoft is up to in the first place. I think I am starting to get it now.

    When Apple started the “Think different” campaign they had to define their target group and of course find a group where Apple scored well and Microsoft not so well. The outcome – as we know – is that Apple appeals to those fashionable artist-like intellectuals.
    Now Microsoft is in the underdog and they have to do the exact same analysis before the start of the campaign: “What will be the target group?” It is highly unlikely Microsoft’s target group will be the same as Apple’s. And because we fit well into the Apple target group it is also very unlikely the Microsoft campaign will appeal to us.

    The new Microsoft target group appears to be: “ordinary people”. Watching the second ad fits in the picture that appeared to me when commenting on the Paul Thurrott thing and reading winsupersite for that matter.
    Maybe it doesn’t make that much sense to approach the Microsoft campaign from a technological point of view, they are taking a cultural and emotional approach. It doesn’t matter who possesses “the truth”. The truth will be found in gain or loss of market share. From that point of view the new campaign might be better than we momentarily think.

    Don’t underestimate Microsoft!

  • luisd

    I just saw the second one from the series on the MS website. It is weird, and surreal. It makes me laugh in a kind of WTF way.
    But they are building up momentum, I am waiting for the next one.

    Let’s see what comes, and how it develops. My feeling is that they are creating a very surreal world, where anything is valid. Like moving into somebody else’s house and have the nerve to complain about your hosts food. The weird lady going around fixing everything, and nobody caring. Being dishonest, telling your child off for eating something and then eating it yourself, having secret items hidden from your partner, etc.

    By trying to set a funny world, a cartoon of reality, they set the tone, and in that cartoon world, all is valid. I think the campaign will be bloody and merciless.

  • GaryKPDX

    stefn wrote: “The chief asset of Apple is that it’s run by a non-tech type in Jobs, who has the respect of the techies…” I knew Steve back in the early 70’s when he spent some time at Reed College where I was a student. One Saturday afternoon, a professor (and electronics hobbyist) drove Steve and me to a hole in the wall surplus store in North Portland. We bought a couple old military circuit boards and Steve showed us how to replace the transistor logic circuits we were making with IC’s. This was mostly RTL and maybe even HiNIL logic. So Steve is more of a techie than most people realize, although history (I think correctly) gives the nod to Woz for Apple’s early technical achievements.

  • luisd

    Some of the images in


    are actually made on a Mac :-) Hilarious.

    I made a screen shot of the file info of one of them. See it here


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